There were two “big” news in Singapore last week. The first was that of a juicy football club power struggle elevated to a formal corruption probe. The second was the announcement of the merger of several schools. One of which is my alma mater, Anderson Junior College.
Yeah. Soon, the school I attended like, eons ago, would be merged with Serangoon Junior College. As I’m writing this, I’m wondering what the new name would be. Whether it would be some god awful portmanteau.
Like all such announcements nowadays in Singapore, there’s a lot of criticism and debate ongoing. The more vitriolic personalities downright condemning this as horrific government planning, or a myopic approach to pedagogy, or sheer tragedy. As an ex-student of one of these schools, I feel compelled to write something about it. Given the JC merger is more or less cast in concrete, this is really no more than a rant. Therefore, I’m going to be very informal with what follows.
1) Firstly, while I still keep in close contact with three of my Junior College classmates, I have not stepped into AJC grounds for 24 years now. In other words, I don’t give a **** what happens to it. I feel this way about Anderson Junior College solely because of a certain “king of the castle” personality in the school administration during my days. On the brighter side, my disposition towards AJC probably affords me the ability to look at the JC merger a little more objectively.
2) The Ministry of Education (MOE) is receiving a lot of flak for one of the methods it cited for deciding which schools to merge. Geographical proximity. Without going into an entire analysis here, let me just say, alamak, who you trying to kid? You serious think people can’t notice none of the top JCs are affected? What feels to be the case here is that the JCs to merge were firstly shortlisted, possibly by intake numbers. Thereafter, “geographical proximity” was used as one of the chief criterion to decide who marries who.
3) On (2), MOE is also receiving a lot of flak for poor planning, lack of vision, etc. Personally, I don’t think these are fair accusations. Many of the JCs involved were established long ago. They were meant to cater to the needs of a forecasted target. Yes, by MOE’s own announcement, this (birth) target wasn’t met and thus the JC merger. But seriously, you prefer preparing for a target and not hitting it? Or not preparing for a target at all?
And something like birth rates. Even without all the current concerns about the cost of living, jobs, immigration, etc, would there ever be complete assurance with something like birth targets?
By the way, about the newly established Eunoia Junior College. Call me g-supporter or whatever, but I buy MOE’s explanation on that. It’s also not as if the absence of this new one Junior College would change anything about the rest. Frankly, I feel Eunoia is outside of the discussion.
4) On (2) again, I think what brought about this JC merger is that same situation since the late 80s:
- You can have a humongous, lavishly funded JC next to every MRT station, equipped with NTUC and Popular Bookstore and both Starbucks and Coffee Bean. But the top Singaporean students would still ever only eye those three “ministerial” JCs. Raffles, HC, and National.
- The great, but not great with a G Singaporean students would expand their lists to include a few others. According to this link, there’s a G7 in Singapore! (WTH?)
- Students with aggregates trending just below puberty ages would consider the JCs with evocative names. You know, names nice to roll off the tongue. Like the name of saints. Religion. Etc. (If you’re Singaporean, you know what I mean)
- For the rest, and assuming these still wanna go the JC route, that’s what the to-be-merged JCs are for. Sorry to put it this way. And let me state for the record I DO know many of these JCs had significant accomplishments. In my opinion, these JCs, including mine, were established so that students who couldn’t get into the coveted ones still have somewhere to go to. What happened over the years, unfortunately, is competition from the polytechnics and overseas options. Most such students, at least those I know, would opt for a polytechnic course. Rather than settle for a “less-branded,” not so impressive sounding Junior College. Doesn’t help too that nowadays, top students are also heading to the polytechnics.
The Real Reason for the JC Merger: Aspiration
What I’m saying here is this. The real reason for the JC merger is aspiration. Birth rates, geographical (I long to be) close to you might play a part, but the affected JCs are suffering low intake because too many students prefer the better-branded institutions.
People want better sounding academic labels, in other words. The ones known to be attractive.
To wax lyrical about small classes being better, etc, is also rubbish. Yes, small academic classes are indeed better. One to one lagi better. But seriously, do you want to go to a school where you can’t play the sport of your choice, or perform in a stage production, or join the band, because don’t have enough people leh …
Is there a problem with this? Is there some looming socio-political threat? I say, yeah. Especially with people and companies who cling to academic labels decades down the road.
Is there anything we can do about it? I think so, to be honest. But this involves a paradigm shift away from academic superiority and reputation. Which would then collapse the lucrative tuition and enhancement classes industries. Which would then also deprive local politicians of one traditional banner of credentials. Is Singapore ready for this? Are Singaporean leaders, social or political, ready to make the change? Would Singaporean parents and students put themselves up for the cause?
Hell, no. Not in a hundred years.
Discuss in GP lessons, maybe lah. Talk and talk, laugh laugh a bit with tee-cher and make proclamations. But really do it? Make the sacrifice through one’s self? One’s child?
No. I’m so certain the answer is no.